Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snowbank Loop

For some trips, I like to fish, but for others, I like to put on some miles. It can be difficult to get out into the BWCA during the summer, as there is a lot of work to do, but I usually try to get out on my weekend (which is never the actual weekend). I had June 1st and 2nd off, and so did my roommate Zane. We decided to head into #27 Snowbank Lake and do an overnight loop.
We got a nice early start on the morning of the 1st. Zane packed the gear, while I packed our food, just some summer sausage, cheese, gorp, and a couple of really great freeze dried dinners. We were going to be travelling and only out for one night, so we tried to pack as little as possible. We managed to fit everything into two small comfortable packs. The weather forecast called for rain on the 2nd, but that didn’t bother us; we would simply paddle in the rain if need be.
We made it to the lake by 9:00, loaded up the canoe, and got started. It was a beautiful day, warm, sunny, and very little wind with hardly a cloud in the sky. We headed north and a little east toward Boot Lake. We saw a couple of groups camping on Snowbank, but overall, the lake was pretty quiet.
We portaged to Boot, quickly made our way across the lake, and then portaged into Ensign. The portage is marked as 220 rods, but it felt just a little bit longer. Like Snowbank, Ensign was pretty quiet. We saw a couple of boats paddling to the west, and a few people camping, but that was it. We continued east, and then north toward Vera Lake. We traversed our way across the up-and-down portage to Vera.
Vera was a little disappointing. It a small, skinny lake but very pretty with some nice rock formations. The problem was there was a fleet of 7 or 8 boats sitting in the middle of the narrowest part of the lake talking loudly and fishing. By rule, this is illegal. Four is the maximum number of boats allowed to be together at any time. It is clear why this rule exists. The fleet totally encroached on our solitude and damaged our wilderness experience. It was very frustrating and was a good reminder that BWCA regulations are in place for a reason and we all need to make sure we follow them and the leave no trace principles.
We paddled the two miles across Vera and made the portage into Trader Lake. It was a short paddle across to Missionary Lake, another short paddle then a 180 rod portage into Skoota Lake. It was about a mile on Skoota, then a short portage into Dix, from there, a short portage to Spoon, then to Pickle, and finally into Kekekabic. The stretch from Vera to Kekekabic was a lot of puddle jumping, but the lakes were interesting, and we only saw one other boat through that stretch.
Once on Kekekabic, we decided to do a little exploring. We checked out a couple of campsites and had a late lunch at the site on the big island. Kekekabic is one of my favorite lakes. There are a couple of nice campsites and it is usually pretty secluded. We didn’t see anyone else on the lake. In the fall, the colors are extraordinary. It’s definitely a neat lake to spend a couple of days on.
Zane and I didn’t have a couple of days, so we kept moving. The portage from Kekekabic into Strup was moderately difficult because of the elevation change. Strup was a fast paddle and portage to Wisini Lake. Wisini is a small lake with a few campsites, but one really nice one. The site on the point is on a high rock facing west, overlooking the lake. There was a group camped here, so we didn’t get to take a close look at the site, but I will definitely be staying there in the future. On the south side of the lake there is a high rock edge. From a distance, there is grouping of rocks that sort of looks like a gorilla’s face. This is just an awesome little lake.
We headed from Wisini to Ahmakose Lake, to Gerund Lake, and finally to Fraser Lake. By now, it was late evening. We still had an hour or two of daylight left, but we had finished at least half our loop and thought it would be a good time to find a campsite. We passed a decent site on the north end of the lake, and found a really great site on a peninsula on the west side of the lake.
Zane set up camp while I got some water boiling for dinner. We had some Backpacker’s Pantry dinners. I had a Chicken with Potatoes and stuffing and Zane had some Beef Stroganoff. They were delicious. I am always amazed how good some of the freeze-dried dinners taste. We supplemented dinner with a little of Cache Lakes vanilla pudding for desert. It was a very satisfying dinner after a full day of paddling.
It was almost dark by the time we cleaned up dinner. There was no wind and no clouds above us, but we could see some clouds building on the western horizon and determined they must be the source of the forecasted rain. However, they were still hours away. Since it was so calm, I decided to do a little exploring near our campsite. Zane decided to stay behind, so I grabbed my headlamp and went out for a short evening paddle. It was fantastic; not a gust of wind. I paddled in the bay just to the north of our campsite, hoping to come across some wildlife, but with no luck. After a while, I paddled to the middle of the bay and just watched the night sky roll in. The stars were incredible. At first, there were only a few, but once it got dark, the sky was blanketed. I sat out an enjoyed the evening for a little while and then realized I was exhausted from a long day on the water and it was time for bed. I made my way back to camp in the dark and decided to call it night. As I was brushing my teeth before bed, I could see the cloud front in the west slowly erasing the stars from the sky. The front was picking up speed and size. We were definitely going to get some rain in the morning.
When I finally woke up, it had to be around 7:00. It wasn't raining yet, but it was ominous. Rather than trying to wait for the front to pass, Zane and I decided to just go for it. We were on our way out and getting soaked was not a big deal. We ate a quick breakfast of gorp and granola, cleaned up camp and hit the trail. By the time we were on the water the front was just about on top of us.
We made our way west and south toward Thomas Lake. The narrows between Fraser and Thomas were incredible. It is a tiny little channel with high rock edges on both sides. Incredible. As we reached the end of the narrows, it started to rain. By this time, the wind had picked up a little, but was still manageable. As we continued, the rain began to fall harder and the wind got stronger. We were able to skirt the shoreline for a while to stay out of the wind, but we came to a point where it made more sense to try and cross the lake. At this point, the wind was whistling and there were whitecaps on Thomas Lake. We saw another group of paddlers hunkered down on the other side of the lake waiting out the storm. We waited for a little bit. It looked like the storm would pass, but it was hard to tell how long it would take. Our impatience got the best of us and we decided we would go for it during the next short lull. The lull never came and after about 10 minutes of getting soaked by a torrential downpour, we decided to go for it.
The wind was still very strong, but it had died a little. At least it wasn’t at its strongest. We dug in and made the crossing. The other group saw us go for it, so they did the same. It was a little hard work, but we made it without incident. We made it to the portage, looked behind us (the other group was doing fine) and made our way across to Thomas Pond.
Thomas Pond took us to a channel that led us past Hatchet Lake, finally into Ima Lake. Ima is a neat lake with a couple of really nice campsites. After Ima we had to do a little puddle jumping. We went from Jordan, to Cattyman, to Adventure, to Jitterbug, to Ahsub, and finally into Disappointment Lake. As we passed through this stretch of small lakes, the weather turned from heavy rain and winds to scattered showers and a breeze. By the time we loaded the canoe on Disappointment Lake the rain had stopped. We paddled the 3+ miles through Disappointment and made the portage into Parent Lake. Then, it was across Parent, back onto Snowbank, and back to the landing. Soaked, we threw everything in the truck, loaded up the canoe, and made our way home. Another great trip, though it was short, was in the books.

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